Wedneday, July 11 – The Hartman Institute in Detail

The day began with a wonderful session taught by Israel Knohl, Professor of Bible, Hebrew University – “Tikkun in the Opening Chapters of Genesis.” Those of you who know me, know that I believe Ma’aseh Bereishit, the Act of Creation, to be among, if not the, most important and influential story in the TaNaKh (Hebrew Bible), in Jewish mysticism, and perhaps in Judaism all together.

For those of you with good memories, you may remember that four years ago this June, Ma’aseh Bereishit was the topic of the lesson I gave as part of my interview Shabbat at Ohr Shalom.

By the way, Ohr Shalom is very much with me and with us these days. One because of the wonderful Mazal we have had to see many friends from Ohr Shalom here in Israel; two, because of the wonderful emails many of you have sent, especially about Maital’s accident; four because of many strands of thinking reflecting on these past four years and the coming years for me and my family at Ohr Shalom, and how to incorporate these incredible learnings and experience; and finally, because the Jerusalem air help fills the lungs and the whole body with a wonderful sense of God’s lovingness express through the good things God brings into our lives, and for us, Ohr Shalom is very much in this category of being an expression of God’s Chen.

But I digress.

Let me just say from the beginning, Professor Knohl managed to allow Source Criticism, the theory of Biblical scholarship of identifying the different source tradition in the Biblical text, to contribute to the deep meaning of the text rather than detract from it. It was brilliant analysis and pedagogy.

The depth of it is beyond what I can do simply on a website, but suffice it to say, that he contrasted the theology and cosmology of the first creation story (P Source) with that of the second (J Story). And he extended to reading to the end of the Garden story, Cain and Able, and the flood.

He tried to understand what kind of Tikkun Olam, or Repair of the World, is presented in the stories and what we learn about this world, its maker and our responsibility.

Again, brilliant.

If you are a member of Ohr Shalom, I anticipate that you will see this material and feel the reverberations from this lesson for a long time to come. (Especially when taken together with Melila’s lesson from Thursday, July 5.)

Today was also the final lesson on “the Kuzari” with Menachem Loeberbaum. Throughout the past two weeks, we have had a number of sessions with Menachem studying this important work of Jewish philosophy and theology. Much of our time has been studying how Yehudah HaLevy in Spain in the early twelfth century, incorporates philosophy into what appears to be a work dedicated to a Jewish way of thinking. We also did a great deal of linguistic analysis of the original Arabic, with a special idea to understanding how HaLevy incorporates some of the Muslim philosophic conceptual vocabulary into this work. In particular, the D’var HaElohit – the Divine Thing – which is an important element in the work.

In the end, for all of this close readings, Menachem made an argument against a synthesized, whole reading of the Kuzari. Instead, he argues that the sections present different arguments concerning Judaism intended for Judaism. The first section, dominated by the dialogue between the King of the Khazars and the Rabbi/Wise Man, is an argument concerning Judaism pitched at the theological interests of the King with the limitations that philosophy doesn’t play an important role.

On the other hand, the fifth section of “the Kuzari” is dominated by a philosophical explanation of the rationale and underpinnings of Judaism.

Taken all together, Menachem did not put forth a clear argument for this large disparity within the book. He justify it as one of the great unsolved puzzles of our Jewish literary tradtion.

This wasn’t entirely satisfying and it has me tempted to find another outlet to read and teach “the Kuzari” looking for a more satisfying explanation.

The evening began with a dinner provided by the Hartman Institute to teach us about the various programs run by the Hartman Institute. It is incredible. In fact, it is beyond incredible it is mind boggling and dizzying.

The Institute is currently working on developing a new website, but there is still a great deal of information available on their website.

I have a sense of how much influence the Hartman Institute has had in the American Jewish Community for rabbis and laypeople. Their programs include a 2-week study seminar for any rabbi who would like to come and study as well as the 3 year program which I was honored to be selected for. They also do a 2-week study program for laypeople and a distance learning – video conferencing piece for laypeople in their home communities. We hope to bring this last program to San Diego.

They also run a summer program for Jewish educators from outside of the Land of Israel.

But I had no idea of the vast teaching and training they do for Israelis – they are truly broadening the Jewish reality in Israel through there teaching efforts.

For example, they are the provider of Jewish education for units of the Israeli Army. Meaning, that all soldiers in those units are required to attend classes at the Hartman Institute, on Jewish studies and Jewish pluralism. This also means that these soldiers, including their Orthodox Rabbis, are required to sit through classes teaching about Judaism, about pluralism and many of them taught by female rabbis. One of these teachers commented on watching these men with long grey beards take a deep breath before calling her rabbi, but knowing that their Senior Officers who are in the room, would demand that respect.

The Hartman Institute has been awarded to run the same program for Senior Officers in the Israeli Army as well.

It is impossible to predict just how influential these experiences will be for these soldiers and officers throughout their lives!

The Hartman Institute also has a program to train Israeli public/secular school teachers and principals in Judaism and Jewish education. This is a three year programs that has trained literally hundreds of teachers who now teach Israeli Chiloni (non-religious) children throughout the country.

The Hartman Institute has also begun to be the provider of Jewish education at non- religious high school around the country. This past year they were in 11 schools, this coming year they plan to be in 30. They hope ultimately to reach all 90 Israeli non- religious High Schools, again, teaching Jewish Studies through their network of Hartman trained teachers and principals. These classes are not taught as religious indoctrination, but as education about Jewish subjects. Turns out that Jewish education for non- Orthodox Israeli children is even worse than it was before. They graduate from High School with almost no knowledge of Jewish subjects. The fascinating/depressing thing about this program is that it is geared to give these Israeli teens an education comparable to the best of American Day School High Schools! This program is also changing the face of Judaism in Israel, through interactions with the next generation.

The Hartman Institute also runs its own High School for boys, and is about to open a High School for girls, and was asked by the municipality of Jerusalem to take over a failing girls High School.

We listened, enthralled to the incredible work being done by this incredible place. When it was over, I realized I had forgotten to eat my dinner (maybe the first time that has ever happened).

After dinner, we had a lecture with Yossi Klein Halevy, the journalist. He presented his opinions of the future of the State of Israel. Basically, he was pessimistic in all of his details and optimistic in the big picture. I don’t know if that makes it bad new or good news!

His summation of the evening was something like: “Throughout the past, Jews have been targeted by authoritative regimes bent on world domination with us seen as the obstacle – the Nazis the Soviet Union and now the Jihadists.” Implication being: we were up to the previous challenges, though it wasn’t joyful, pleasant or pretty, and we will be up to this one.

Again, another incredible day of 14 hours of learning with no breaks. Again, I made it home in the evening, exhausted, barely able to keep my eyes open, only to disappoint Jennifer who wanted to hear all about another brilliant day.

I have to say, “Read it on my website” is not a very good answer to give to one’s beloved spouse.

Thank God I don’t need much sleep, and Jennifer is a righteous and patient woman!

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